Humidity, mold, and inadequate temperatures can all contribute to air pollution indoors, where air quality can be up to five times more polluted than it is outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Manufacturers in the realm of IAQ are seeing an uptick in interest due to increased awareness among consumers as well, as the air quality concerns that come as a byproduct of efforts to tighten up buildings to increase energy efficiency. In response, they’ve been updating IAQ products for the age of the smartphone and the “smart” HVAC system.
“Most of what is new is really … not completely different from what was offered in the market before,” said AJ Smith, vice president and general manager of Global Pro Comfort, Honeywell Homes (soon to become Resideo). “A lot of what has been launched or is new are really improvements to types of devices or equipment sold in the past. Whether it’s related to ventilation, actual air filtration, or purification, I see mostly companies trying to do them in even better ways, such that you’re always striking a balance between energy usage and really getting the comfort that you want.”
Energy efficiency and IAQ are intertwined, and smarter products can help homeowners strike the right balance between the two, according to Smith.
“We all hear about calling homes tighter and tighter,” he said. “What tends to happen with less natural ventilation, as we do things to make homes more energy efficient … [this] can have a negative effect on your indoor air quality.”
From his perspective, IAQ is part of overall comfort, which is why the manufacturer emphasizes overall connectedness of a home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems via the thermostat, controls, and sensors throughout the house.
“The addition of more sensors throughout the home really helps to optimize the usage, not only of heating and cooling but also humidity, to tell if the system is within those control parameters,” he said.
Walter Ellis, executive vice president/general manager at RGF Environmental Group Inc., said that in the past few years, there’s been an uptick in the variety of new IAQ monitors becoming available to consumers for home and business use. That, in turn, has led to increased awareness of the importance of IAQ.
“These monitors test for various IAQ pollutants that are in the space,” Ellis said. “Once pollutants become ‘visible,’ consumers are more likely to seek out our products. Air quality monitoring and maintenance reminders, often incorporated within a product’s technology, are all features that are relevant to IAQ consumers and maintain connectivity to the home or business owner through apps, he said.
Smart controls aid energy efficiency because systems can work together, pointed out Dennis Mueller, product engineering section manager at Modine Mfg.
“That’s what differentiates [smart IAQ controls], from the end-user standpoint: You have the systems really talking to each other,” he said. “You’re using building management systems to talk among systems, so you’re not delivering 55° when you should be delivering 60°. Those smart systems condition the space to give you the most energy efficiency.”
One example of systems working in tandem is Honeywell’s latest humidification system, the HM750A electrode steam humidifier.
“So many of the systems out there today just don’t humidify enough for some of the climates they’re put into and also require that the furnace really be running and heating,” said Smith. “As we’ve gotten more and more efficient with furnaces and air conditioning, furnaces are not on as much as they used to be in the winter. When you rely on a furnace that needs to be heating and running to evaporate the water into the air, that can be a challenge with modern systems.”
The HM750A allows a homeowner to continue to humidify the air while running only the fan, not the furnace.
On the residential new construction side, IAQ typically remains an afterthought, according to manufacturers. That’s because a typical homebuilder can’t anticipate what future residents will want.
“It’s usually after the fact, an add-on type of business with our contractors,” said Smith. “And I think that has to do a lot with the fact that IAQ, particularly some of the comfort aspects, is very dependent on people’s personal preferences and the way they interact with their home.”
On the commercial side, it’s more of a mix. Ellis reported that IAQ products are being specified for new commercial buildings, while existing buildings are adding the products as a solution for IAQ issues. Mueller emphasized IAQ’s role in retrofit projects, noting that the biggest demand he’s seeing right now is for dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS) — in part because the technology means more options for things like chilled beams and VRF systems.
“They’re not necessarily completely new, but we’re seeing increased adoption,” Mueller said. “We’ve seen quite a few, particularly as you look in some of the more urban environments, where they’re retrofitting what might have been a manufacturing warehouse and creating a condo space in there. Especially if you look at urban housing, where obviously you had all the chemicals in the construction process [when a former manufacturing plant was in use] … that’s a big one where outdoor air systems shine.”
He pointed to Modine’s Atherion DOAS and high-percentage outdoor air units, which include an advanced energy recovery module option to make the system high efficiency. The units come in sizes from 7 to 60 tons and can handle 1,100 to 18,000 cfm.
“Building owners spend so much money conditioning air and then dump it back as waste air,” Mueller said. “We can pretty much manage any conditions for dehumidifying, cooling, and have energy recovery lines to handle exhaust air. With ventilation and exhausting airflow, there’s a lot more direction toward energy recovery.”
Demand for IAQ systems is being driven in large part by new ventilation standards like ASHRAE 62.1, Mueller said.
“By nature, IAQ isn’t efficient, because you’re dumping conditioned air out into the atmosphere … as you continue to ventilate more and more,” he said. “Ten years ago, I don’t think there were too many DOAS manufacturers out there, and now, we continue to see a huge growth market as engineers get smarter as to how to apply the technology. As municipalities and states continue to adopt newer ASHRAE standards with increased ventilation rates for commercial buildings, schools, and hotels, plus more and more people doing retrofits and working to meet the current standards … that is driving engineers to come up with ways to drive energy efficiency and energy recovery.”
Sales in IAQ products have been trending upward, both across the industry and at Honeywell Homes, said Smith — and he anticipates continued acceleration of that growth.
“It’s been well above the growth rate for the overall heating/ventilation market — in some cases, many percentage points higher,” he said. “I think it’s been a pretty steadily growing part of the market, at least for our business and for our contractors, over the last decade.”
Part of it is that people are just more aware of poor IAQ and its effects.
“It’s related a lot to the public’s overall access to the information, overall awareness of different health concerns,” Smith said. “From the standpoint of a lot of emerging markets around the world, you can see the outdoor air quality isn’t even where it should be to be safe for people. I think that has raised a lot of potential for air quality concerns; people are thinking about it more, wondering what levels could be in their home and how that could affect their health.”
That awareness extends to those who regularly use commercial businesses as well.
“Today, restaurants, hospitals, homeowners, employers, etc., are much more aware and thus concerned with air purification and the health benefits our products can provide,” said Ellis. “Business owners are also more aware of the implications of poor indoor air quality and are being more proactive by acting upon IAQ-related complaints, therefore providing a solution before a problem arises.”
On the flip side, as standards become more stringent, particularly in the realm of energy efficiency, air quality can actually decrease, resulting in an increased need for air purification.
“Airtight buildings and homes have more off-gassing and IAQ issues,” Ellis explained. “The requirement for tighter building envelopes, driven by energy efficiency demands, actually reduce air exchanges, concentrating VOCs [volatile organic compounds] emitted from building materials and new furnishings, causing IAQ issues.”
Recently, Ellis has seen companies and institutions putting resources toward specific IAQ concerns — particularly in instances of problematic construction, where building occupants may be raising complaints about a particular irritant. It’s an upfront investment to avoid longer-term backlash.
“There is now general acceptance that these complaints must be taken seriously and acted upon to avoid litigation,” Ellis said.
Today, no longer does good IAQ mean just bringing fresh air into a space, said Mueller.
“It’s about doing it efficiently and being able to make sure you’re getting some use out of that ‘bad air,’ the exhaust,” he said. “Really, the trend for energy efficiency, coupled with IAQ trends, is what’s driving growth.”
Smith expects that growth to keep trending upward as energy efficiency continues to bring tighter buildings and, ironically, lock the fresh air out in the process.
“As standards keep getting more and more stringent on the energy side, people will experience the downside on their comfort … and I think we will continue to see more awareness,” Smith said.
Publication date: 11/12/2018